A group seeking to establish Columbia County’s first charter school said Thursday they wanted to offer parents more choice in how their children will be educated and more control over how school decisions get made.
Organizers behind the proposed Columbia County School for the Arts said parents will have ultimate control over the charter school, because it will be a school where they have chosen to send their children.
“Parents are going to be pivotal to our school,” said Michael Berg, a teacher at Martinez Elementary School and a member of the school’s founding board. “We envision an ‘open-door’ school where parents are involved in daily education.”
About 80 members of the public came to hear what organizers have planned for the school at the first public forum held Thursday night at Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans.
Board member Todd Shafer, a fifth-grade teacher at Martinez Elementary School, said the group plans to create a K-12 school that infuses art, music, dance, drama and foreign language into its curriculum. Shafer said they plan to open by fall 2015 and enroll about 500 children. He said the original plan was to start with a K-5 school and add a grade each year, but since announcing their intentions last month, public feedback has convinced them to include students in the sixth through eighth grades. In addition to providing daily instruction in a cross section of fine arts, Shafer said they also plan to incorporate foreign language instruction in all grades, beginning in kindergarten.
“Our vision is first and foremost to be a school of academic excellence,” he said.
Berg said other charter schools across the nation have proven that the arts-infused model is desired by parents and students and can be successful in improving all aspects of learning.
“This is not some new thing we are developing here in Columbia County,” Berg said. “This model exists all across the country.”
Shafer said the group looked at different types of schools, such as private and magnet schools before deciding on the charter school model. He said private schools require a lot of money and are too expensive for most parents, magnet schools are created and controlled by local school boards, but charter schools allow people to come up with creative alternatives to a standard public school education.
“We work in a mold that is more and more a one-size-fits-all mold,” Shafer said. “We want to give creativity back to the teachers, allow the creativity of the students to come forward instead of being pushed backed to having to choose A, B or C.”
Shafer emphasized that the charter school will be open to all children who reside in Columbia County. There will be no audition or academic criteria to enroll. Also, being an open school, parents can choose to move their children if they aren’t happy.
“If we don’t meet your expectations, then as parents you can take your child away,” said Shafer. “If we don’t fulfill our charter then the state can say, ‘Nice try,’ and they can close us down.”
Shafer said the group plans more public forums over the next month and intends to submit a petition to the Columbia County Board of education in mid-May. He said if the board rejects their plan, they will petition the state to charter the school instead.
The founding board members also include Ron and Kathleen Jones, of the Columbia County Ballet; Linda Scales, a founding member of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts; Carolyn Dolen, the executive director of the Augusta Choral Society; and Cindy Wilkinson, the worship leader at Mosaic United Methodist Church.
Schafer was careful to point out that the group’s plan wasn’t a critique of the county’s school system, just a option for parents who want a more arts-infused learning environment for their children.
“We are not sitting up here saying that Columbia County schools have issues,” Shafer said. “They are very high-performing schools.”
Parents can find more information about the proposed charter school online at www.ccsfta.org.